On my first morning in Japan, on my first trip ever to Asia, I carefully studied my options for breakfast. It appeared as if the hotel where I was staying had several restaurants–with at least 4 choices for the morning meal:
There was the highly touted Plein d’ Etoiles, on the 30th floor, with a panoramic floor to ceiling view of the downtown Kobe, the port, and the inland sea.
There was Soco, a lively cafe on the second floor, overlooking the palatial lobby, which offered as many choices as the Sky restaurant above:
Tiny pancakes and petite french toast and other Western breakfast standards, in Japanese fashion. There was fruit and salads and dim sum and fish and tea and coffee and Danish. There were things I had never seen. There were omelettes made to order. There were meats. There was a bounty of food overflowing from as many as 4 different silver-trayed food stations.
Downstairs in the South Wing, there was the Garden Terrace Restaurant, which I suspected served as an overflow restaurant on busy weekends, like this–Golden Week. It too had an entire station devoted to a traditional Japanese breakfast, as well as tables laden with Western favorites. Outside was the hotel “Chapel” where several weddings took place during my stay.
Down the hall and around a corner from the Garden Terrace, there was some place altogether different…
With smells I’ve never experienced at breakfast before.
I tentatively followed a gently lit, curving path, lined with plants and ponds, and then stepped across a small bridge into an almost silent room where a woman in a kimono led me to table with a smile, even though it was evident that I didn’t understand a word she was saying.
Several other tables were filled with families. All Japanese. All facing the sand garden out the window. All silently enjoying their meals. Even the toddlers.
One baby took a liking to me, and I flirted back, and watched as she and her older brother ate earnestly from the bowls of food that each of us received on a tray.
My token use of chopsticks at the Chinese restaurant back home was quickly put to the test as I looked at the meal before me:
A small tray of fish.
A tiny bowl with Kobe beef.
Delicate pickled items and radishes.
Some sort of relish and sauce.
A custardy kind of dish.
A broth with a tiny rolled egg thing…
I had no idea what I was eating or how to combine it, and there was no one to ask (in English) so I followed what cues I could from the toddler and then simply sensed my way through this most perfect of meals, while sipping green tea, and exploring tastes I have never known–bean paste and and seaweeds and Japanese porridge.
This was a breakfast that I had never imagined, and one that I will always treasure as my introduction to the stillness and beauty of Japan.
Kelly Salasin, May 2012
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